REMEMBRANCE OF A LIFE LIVED
This is about love, loss, and a brave and beautiful dog with a nearly imperturbable calm who transfigured lives. It was this past January when we first spotted her lying on concrete, sprinkled with falling snow, in an area of the market that was strewn with garbage left to rot, as she was, possibly a day or two before she would have met her fate in the large vat right behind her, where during slaughter, dogs are thrown into boiling water. They are then dropped into a rotating drum, like the one located just above where she lay, for the removal of fur, and finally blowtorched, often while still alive, destined to be dog meat stew or “boshintang” or dog broth or “gaesoju” from a so-called health food store. She was motionless, her eyes staring out in a quiet despair, a sick dog’s look. We reached out to stroke her. Because she was not locked in a cage, we took off with her to Seoul Animal Medical Center, where Dr. Jeffrey Suh, surgical team leader, was waiting. It was after 2 a.m. and we were hoping for a miracle. We named the Jindo mix, Somang, meaning “wish” in Korean.
We didn’t know her past but callous desertion was evident, as she was indelibly marked by misfortune. Hit by a car, she was probably then dumped at Moran Market, South Korea’s largest distributor of dog meat for human consumption. If we hadn’t taken her, we have no idea how many days she would have lived, if one more day, either because of dehydration or because she would have been killed that morning. But we also entertained the idea that she was someone’s companion because of her astonishing gentleness and, therefore, could have been abducted or, because of the accident, suddenly abandoned. It’s anyone’s guess. But the decision to save her was an easy one. She wanted to live, despite being worn out by afflictions. She was a luminous presence everyone felt like a nimbus.
As Dr. Suh explained it, she was suffering from a fractured femur of the right hind limb, heartworm infection, mild dehydration, a mass on her mammary glands and on her vulvar area, endometrial hyperplasia on her uterus, weakened kidneys, and a cyst on her liver, but her blood work was normal, aside from malnutrition. She also had disc anomalies on multiple areas of her lower vertebrates but, again, there was no hampering her ability to walk.
The first order of business was diminishing the adverse effect of heartworm treatment, and allowing her time to recover from dehydration and malnutrition. On intravenous fluids, and gaining strength, her broken leg was amputated, and she recuperated beautifully. Ten days after surgery, she began her heartworm treatment, which can be very uncomfortable, but she handled it with her usual ease. She received three injections, a week apart, and an intravenous injection of a steroid and antihistamine to counter any unpleasant reaction. Befitting her personality, she took all of this in great stride, and made the hospital hers, strolling among the dogs and cats with that singular Somang affability, as sweet a dog the world has ever seen.
With Somang more revivified each day, she was being prepared for transport to the States after two months under the exuberantly humane and excellent care of Dr. Suh. “It was a joy to have her here with us. Many of the staff said that she was even starting to look like me.” Dr. Suh had her medical records and health certificate ready, and IDA purchased a proper crate and airline ticket and it was off to Los Angeles in early April to be greeted by Karyn Wagner, a costume designer for films, and Robert Bramwell, a film editor, who responded to a community ad about the South Korean refugee, and awaited her flight, with harness, leash, and a blanket, so, as Karyn wrote, “she has something that is hers right off the bat.” Somang was only supposed to be a temporary guest for a respite in LA until she was scheduled to go to a foster home on the East Coast but, as these things happen, they fell madly for her, which meant no more travel for the weary. Karyn and Robert already had a Jindo among their five canines, called Lilly, and they were excited to have another of these “sensitive, thoughtful, kind of loner dogs, who love to be coerced into interaction.” Within twenty minutes of the drive home from the airport, Somang went to sit next to Karyn with her paws around her knee, and then to a groomer to experience her first American bath.
Arriving home, she was met by the brood: Lilly (found in a storm drain when she was a puppy with a birth defect), Dennis (abandoned at the Stocker Oil fields), Ernie (lost in the middle of an intersection), Archie (rescued from the streets of India), and Lulu (rescued from Washington State), outcasts all, and poised to welcome Somang into the fold.
She began to settle in but there was a certain nameless mystery about her, veiled in secrets. We called her Greta. Karyn and Robert had other names: Cutie-patootie and Sweet Pea. In the early days, she was still fatigued by her long flight and plunged in a sea of sleep, finally emerging from her bed and out into the garden of her Hollywood Hills home to greet the luster of green leaves. As Karyn wrote, “apparently our girl is a bit of an actress. For days now, she has appeared hopelessly lying on a doggie bed. Undeniably sad, and for good reason, she hasn’t responded to our petting or love with much interest at all. Dennis, our huge white German Shepherd, and Ernie, our red terrier mix, have appointed themselves her caretakers. One or the other is never far away, either sleeping next to her or constantly checking up. She hasn’t been friendly to the other dogs yet; she’s just been through too much to make friends right away. So they keep their distance, just enough to let her know they’re there, but not so close that they’re invasive. Ours is a cheerful household and they are clearly a little worried about her indifference to doggy monkeyshines.
“We have a long deck, which we cross every morning to take the dogs in the back yard. We have a nice coffee time and some good fetch games and lots of love. We’ve been taking Somang out with us, where she flops in the grass and ignores us. Today, on the way back in, I decided to help her walk, instead of carrying her, as we had been. She’s so light. I brought her just inside the deck and closed the gate. I went back to get my coffee and, well, this weed that had been bothering me finally got the attention it deserved, along with a few others, and it was a good five minutes before I came back with that cup. When I turned around, imagine my surprise! There’s Somang, taking a morning stroll among the potted plants and enjoying the breeze. Another minute and she’s gazing out at the horizon, wuffling in the wind, and actively looking for her breakfast! She seemed to shrug when she realized that I had caught her, as if to say that this beautiful home isn’t so horrible, really. Robert went to get his camera and noticed that she was even considering joining the dogs to have a good bark at whatever’s in the yard. Good work, Greta!!”
Somang was awakening to a new world with so much quicksilver wonder. One day, moving gingerly on three legs, she decided to try and sprint. Suddenly, she took off for the driveway! And once there, she stopped and turned around, with a satisfied look. And then there was a walk down the block; a first shiver of excitement about seeing her leash; knowing her name; from the sounds of the kitchen, wanting to see where dinner was; choosing to stay in the garden with Robert and Karyn and having a little taste of a grassy patch rather than hustle back into the house to wait for her next meal; still bone-tired but wearing a different look, announcing quietly that she was here; starting to gush about having her ears rubbed and doing what Karyn called a ‘lovely talky thing’; and wagging her tail and smelling the news in the wind with more enthusiasm. Ernie was fast becoming a confidante, and her presence knocked Archie off balance, causing him to listen more. Congratulations, Somang! There were signs of an interior happiness but her expression rarely changed.
As Karyn wrote, “She is learning routine. We now notice that she has good days and bad days. She sometimes wakes up depressed, which is sad. Pats and hugs don’t seem to be nearly as efficacious as physical effort, so we push her to exercise more, which she really won’t do on her own yet. But she’s also feeling a bit more secure and this morning actually went exploring the property. It will be a bit of a slow trip back to the land of the living but she will get there. Mostly it’s just about time to heal. The crows patrol one side of the Canyon and the red tailed hawks the other and the deer are eating everything green before it all goes brown for the summer. It’s a great day to be alive.”
On a beautiful May morning, she amazed everyone by walking into the bedroom for an ear rub and wagged her tail at the sound of “good morning!” Joy was all around. And then when Karyn and Robert left the room for a minute, Somang went around and piddled, as it were, on the other dog beds, all of course but the two beds she liked to sleep on. And then she very happily marched herself out the gate, waiting to go into the garden. Karyn said she was kind of smiling, maybe even a little proud. And then she began to let the other dogs near her.
In late May, Somang had surgery for three mammary glands removed, plus ovaries and uterus, tested negative for the heartworm she had been treated for in Seoul, and charmed everyone at Dr. Sharp’s office, the trusted family vet. Dr. Sharp was completely smitten and marveled at how well Somang coped. An extraordinary dog, he said.
Recuperating, she spent mornings sunning herself on the deck, lost in blissful reveries, the sun burning through the Hollywood Hills, and she and Ernie were waiting together for breakfast. Archie sat near by. She even laid her head on her paws and sighed, contented, and actually spooned with Karyn. When she was feeling spry, Karyn wrote “that with a little help, she made it down the spiral staircase to the front door, down the long driveway to the street and down half a block to the neighborhood tree where all the dogs exchanged peemail. Then back again all the way up! Frequent rests and a few helping lifts with her sling, but we didn’t carry her any part of the way. This is really big news for all of us. The other dogs were very encouraging, especially Lilly, who paced along, but for Archie, who just wanted a good game of fetch. Somang asked for hugs last night and again this morning by putting her face out toward me as far as it could go and wagging her tail. She now relishes ear rubs, because she’s been watching the other dogs do it for a while. She has also discovered rawhide chews and thinks they’re a pretty great invention. And, yesterday, for the first time she was on her feet and grinning and wagging her tail when I returned home.”
In July, Robert and Karyn had a scare when Somang fell ill and required hospitalization and fluids. An infection was suspected. Her kidneys were compromised but still functioning. She returned home like a conquering hero, smiling a bit. Robert, with his oceanic heart for nonhuman animals, especially those who have been abused, turned all of his attention and prodigious nurturing skills to her care. He started to hand-feed her Karyn’s homemade dog food and administered fluids, plus Vitamin C and B Complex, and he and Karyn stayed by her side for hours. Karyn even manually wagged Somang’s tail to entice her to believe she will want to do it again soon on her own. She was becoming a little more alert and took a small interest in life around her, and Ernie, as always, was never far from her side except when he took a break, and Dennis and Lulu were there for her. Archie stuck close by as well. She seemed to be on the upswing.
And then in August, everything changed. She began to visibly weaken, struggled to lift herself up, eyes half-closed, and she ate very little and then mildly protested. Her one good back leg gave out. Having a hiatus from work, Robert abandoned his music, and willed Somang, their Sweet Pea, to get better. Karyn lay down on Somang’s bed and held her paw as if they were holding hands, and she gently put her head on Karyn’s hand. In the mornings, Starbucks’ breakfast sandwiches were served to encourage her to eat more. She ate an entire one on her own, and then the following day had a warm croissant and nearly swayed with pleasure.
But her condition didn’t improve. Her kidneys were compromised, and Karyn and Robert called Dr. Armaiti May, the vegan vet with a Los Angeles house-call practice for dogs and cats, who had visited with the two other rescues, Gracie and Hyung, who had accompanied Somang on her flight from South Korea to Los Angeles before they moved on to their permanent homes on the East Coast. Dr. May writes, “learning her story of being rescued from the Korean dog meat trade and seeing her fragile condition endeared her to me, and although her prognosis didn’t seem great at the time, it seemed reasonable to run some blood work and a urinalysis test as a baseline, in case a urinary tract infection was a contributing cause of her kidney disease, in which case it could be treated with antibiotics long-term and potentially result in a recovery for her.
“The lab results showed markedly elevated BUN and CREATININE, kidney values, as well as a decreased ALBUMIN (a blood protein) along with an E. Coli urinary tract infection that was resistant to most antibiotics except for Clavamox. Though not the picture of health, this did provide a glimmer of hope since it seemed plausible that she might have a kidney infection (also known as pyelonephritis) due to an unresolved urinary tract infection that went undetected. So our treatment plan was to continue the subcutaneous fluids and start her on oral Clavamox. Robert and Karyn were able to do that for another week, but then I got a call stating she had lost the ability to use her remaining back leg and wasn’t eating on her own. Both Robert and Karyn had to resume jobs that demanded very long hours and, with Karyn soon traveling East for work, they were not in a position to continue to provide the necessary care, which she required. So I volunteered to take care of her at my apartment on a temporary basis while we put out an alert for someone in the LA area to foster or adopt this sweet little special-needs girl.
“It was possible that there was a fibrocartilaginous embolism (FCE or a sort of localized stroke) that could have caused her paralysis. If that were the case, she had about a 50 percent chance of recovering from it but, if she were to regain function to the leg, it would take at least another few weeks. In the meantime, we wanted to see if her condition would improve with antibiotics and fluids. I had a colleague of mine who specializes in rehab medicine do an evaluation of her and take measurements for a possible cart to help her get around. Although I could sometimes hand-feed her, her appetite was inconsistent and she continued to produce copious amounts of urine, which indicated her kidneys were not well, so we decided she needed to be hospitalized and on IV fluids to give her the best possible chance she could get for recovery. I took her to Overland Veterinary Clinic where Dr. Louis Schwartz oversaw her care. With only three legs, there was limited access to Somang’s veins for placement of an IV catheter for administration of fluids, and the initial IV catheter placed in her lateral saphenous vein (in the back leg) was positional, meaning that the fluids would only flow properly if her leg was in a particular position, making it difficult to maintain regular flow of her fluids.”
Dr. Schwartz, who successfully treated two prior IDA rescues from South Korea with heartworm, fervently believed, like Dr. May, in giving Somang every opportunity to beat the odds, considering everything she had endured before her rescue. We all agreed to go as far as we could, as long as Somang was comfortable and because there were promising moments along the way. We all had faith in miracles and remedy, and, as Shakespeare wrote, “to jump the life to come.” Dr. May and Dr. Schwartz, herculean in their efforts, didn’t charge IDA for their time, medications, or services but, instead, freely and generously, offered their vast medical talent and brilliant instincts and employed as much as they could from their restorative medical kit to help her survive.
Meanwhile, Somang, with her sublime equanimity, seemed to take in everyone’s presence with a kind of peacefulness. All of the sounds of activity around her—Robert and Karyn visiting at the hospital to hand-feed her and stroke her beautiful coat, the veterinary magic of Dr. May and Dr. Schwartz attending all her needs—were like a net beneath her, felicitous, an abundance of good will and love.
The night before Karyn departed for the East Coast for three months, she and Robert picked Somang up to stay at the house. Later that evening, Robert drove her to Hollywood, where she would people-watch for hours with rapt attention. She even ate, and seemed to take great delight in being out on a spectacular Los Angeles night. The following morning, she was taken back to the hospital.
“After using her peripheral veins once that vein in her back leg had ceased to be usable for IV catheter use,” said Dr. May, “I drove her to City of Angels Veterinary Specialty Center and consulted with a few specialists. Considering her history of heartworm disease, which had been treated in Korea, along with her steadily decreasing ALBUMIN levels (which started to decrease back in January of 2014 when she was still in Korea before there was any hint of elevated kidney values), and the protein in her urine, it was apparent that her kidneys had lost their ability to concentrate to her urine and her body was losing protein from her kidneys. This condition is known as protein-losing nephropathy, and, in Somang’s case, was likely brought on by immune complexes from her heartworm disease causing damage to the filtration apparatus of her kidneys, also known as glomerulonephritis. Despite the poor prognosis, we decided to have a medial saphenous catheter placed (in the vein on the inside of her back leg) and try to see how her kidney values fared, since there was a very slight improvement.”
The evening of September 7th, Robert picked Somang up to bring her back to the house to be with her family. The morning of the 8th, on the birthday of the legendary writer and ardent animal advocate, Leo Tolstoy, Somang died in Robert’s arms, surrounded by Ernie, Archie, Dennis, Lulu, and Lilly, who visibly mourned her. The silence and power of her passing lingered.
“It was very disappointing to us all that despite our best efforts, Somang didn’t pull through,” said Dr. May. “There is solace, however, in knowing she was surrounded by love in her last months of existence on this planet. She was a true ambassador for millions of other dogs as well as cats, pigs, chickens, pigs, cows, turkeys, and goats who are raised and slaughtered for food every day worldwide. I hope her story inspires more people to open the doors of their hearts to have compassion for all sentient beings and choose to be vegan. Rest in peace, beloved Somang.”
Dr. May made arrangements with Sherman Baylin of Peaceful Pets Aquamation for her remains to be aquamated, which is a gentle, green alternative to cremation in which water flow and alkaline hydrolysis are used to accelerate the natural decomposition process. Because of Somang’s story, the final service was free of charge.
Dr. Schwartz, deeply moved by Somang, admired the way she fought the good fight. “She gave it everything she had. She had an extraordinary will.” And Dr. Suh, who first saw her when she arrived from Moran Market in an abysmal state, and became his for two months, said, “I am so sorry that Somang is gone. It is devastating that someone we cared for so much is not with us anymore. She was absolutely special. When she came to our hospital with a broken leg, she never once tried to bite despite the pain that she was in. I thought at first that it might have been because of all the abuse that she went through. Later, I realized that she was just a nice dog who liked people. I am glad that she had the chance to enjoy life for the short time that she was with us. Thank you for letting me treat her. She was sheer pleasure.”
Karyn, upon hearing the news, wondered about how much Sweet Pea enjoyed her life with the family. “Maybe not in the boisterous big way that Archie does, or the cuddly get-small-with-mom-way that Lulu does or even the roll-over-on-your-back-and-snore-and-snarfel-way that Ernie does. But in her own small way, she appreciated the peace and the breezes and the good food. She never gulped her food, but ate slowly and tasted every bit. She also savored the breezes that blew through the Canyon, wafting the scent of rabbits and coyotes and quails and wild sage her way. She was patient on her good days and stoic on the bad ones and reminded us all to appreciate what we had. Her corner of the living room will always be waiting for her. The other dogs still don’t sleep there.” Robert, who researched dialysis machines if Somang pulled through, said, “she was one of the sweetest dogs I have ever met and I’ve had dogs all my life. Such a gentle, gentle dog and she loved to watch things.” Somang and Robert shared a magical night in Hollywood together, sitting in the car, watching the world outside, with its piercingly ephemeral beauty.
Somang, who after everything she went through, shockingly, beautifully, unfathomably was suffused with the awe of having survived at all and created so much joy around her in such a short time. She will never be forgotten.
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